Anyone who read the series of articles published in Barbados TODAY last Friday dealing with the vexing issue of crime, violence and their effect on young people, would have been confronted in a telling way with the grim reality of what a serious problem juvenile delinquency has become in this country.
The articles captured startling data and other revelations which came out of a panel discussion held by the Alumni Association of The St Michael School last Thursday, as part of activities to mark the 85th anniversary of the Martindale’s Road, St Michael learning institution.
Station Sergeant Roland Cobbler, who was one of the panellists, quoted police statistics showing children as young as 11 years old running into trouble with the law, and 11 to 16-year-olds inclining towards robbery and illegal firearms.
Noting that our southern neighbour Trinidad and Tobago had faced a major problem of juvenile delinquency preceding the current crime wave, Station Sergeant Cobbler, a University of the West Indies-trained sociologist, warned: “If we are not careful here in this country, unfortunately, our adolescents who are engaging in delinquency will become involved
in hard-core criminality.”
Clearly, the time has come for more decisive action to safeguard our long-term peace and security as a country. It is fair to say, based on available information, that the problem of juvenile delinquency seems to be getting out of hand. The question, however, is what is society prepared to do about it. Barbadians talk and talk, but tend to come up short on decisive action.
During the discussion, poor parenting was identified as being at the root of the problem. The lawlessness being exhibited by some of our youth, therefore, is but a reflection of a general failure to instil discipline from an early age within the home. This is a radical departure from the traditional Barbadian approach that emphasized “bending the tree while it is young”.
Persons who are exposed to discipline from an early age learn to accept responsibility for managing their behaviour. If the family which is the bedrock of society is failing to do so, then the responsibility falls to the state. Delinquent parents must be held more accountable and given more than a slap on the wrist when they fail in their responsibility.
Perhaps the time has come for Barbados to consider implementing a boot camp-type programme similar to what exists in the United States. We are placing the issue on the table today with the aim of stimulating discussion on the benefits of such interventions. These programmes, which have been featured on television, take a military-type approach to instilling discipline.
They subject young offenders, usually in the 13 to 18 age group, to a rigid, strictly supervised regime aimed at changing bad attitudes. Many who entered juvenile boot camps as bad boys and girls emerge as changed persons because of the experience. How tough is the programme at the Edna Nicholls School, for example, where schoolchildren are sent
for bad behaviour?
From what some children have said, it is a breeze that only takes offenders out of the school environment for a while but changes little else. In a boot camp, participants have to get up early each morning and are kept busy performing various tasks throughout the day to eliminate available free time. Strict rules regulate all aspects of their conduct and appearance.
Punishment for misbehaviour is usually swift and may involve some type of physical activity such as push-ups. Behaviour modification occurs through a reinforcement of positive behaviour and immediate punishment of negative behaviour. Isn’t this what some of our young people need?
With the necessary amendment to the relevant legislation after appropriate public discussion, ordering the really intransigent child offenders to spend time in boot camp could be a new sentencing option for the Juvenile Court. Ideally, the boot camp initiative could be managed by the Barbados Defence Force with input from the Cadet Corps to ensure a youth perspective.
At the same time, consideration should be given to a special programme for delinquent parents. We need, as a country, to explore every available option in order to send a strong message to wayward youth who, thankfully, are still in a minority. That message is that society will never give in to the nonsense and they will be brought in line.